What Do I Do If My Child Can’t Hear the Speech Errors They are Making?

Enrichment Therapies

March 8, 2022

minimal pair cards tea, key, tall, call, tape, cape examples

By: Mallory Carr, M.A., CCC-SLP

Making the Most of Minimal Pairs

Your child’s speech-language pathologist (SLP) might be using a minimal pair therapy approach with your child if they are struggling with a phonological disorder. This means that a child is making predictable errors with sounds that they are able to produce; they just aren’t using the sounds at the right time! For example, a child might make the /k/ sound in a word like “book,” but they do not produce the /k/ sound in a word like “key.”

What is Minimal Pair therapy?

Minimal pair therapy focuses on changing a child’s representation of how words sound and are produced. This approach contrasts words by one sound to emphasize to the student how using the appropriate sound is important to be understood. This approach focuses on your child’s ability to discriminate between words that differ by only their error, and then produce words with the appropriate sound. (e.g. Tea vs. Key)

Tips for Discrimination Production Practice

If a child is having difficulties hearing and understanding the difference between the target sound and their error sound, it won’t be meaningful for the child to practice producing the target sound! Discrimination between target sounds and error sounds is very important to make production practice meaningful. 

When your SLP sends home minimal pair practice cards with you, here are some tips to help with this skill: 

  1. Point to a picture and say what it is, explain the item, and say the word again (e.g., “This is tea. Tea is something warm that you drink. This is tea.”
  2. Point to its minimal pair and do the same thing (e.g., “This is a key. You use a key to unlock the house. This is a key.” 
  3. Tell your child to point to one or the other (e.g., “Show me the key”). 
  4. If they identify the correct picture, praise them! (e.g., “Good job! You found the key!” Now I can unlock the door!”) 
  5. Kiddos love the idea that they can’t be tricked, so now say to them, “Okay, I’m going to try to trick you. I’m going to ask for something again, don’t let me trick you!” Ask for one of the targets again (2-3 times) randomizing the order that you ask them. 
  6. If the child identifies the incorrect word, praise them for their efforts and correct (e.g., “Good job picking one! I asked for the key to unlock the door, and you showed me the tea that you drink! Can you show me the key that you use to unlock the door?”).

Tips for Production Practice

Once the child is accurate with discriminating between the sounds, they’re ready to be challenged to say the correct word. This practice requires some playing and acting, but it will really help your child. 

  1. Explain the items and say the words like in steps 1-2 of Production. 
  2. Ask your child to tell you what you need for a task (e.g., “What do I need to unlock the door?”) 
  3. If they respond with the correct sound, praise them (e.g., “Yes, we need a key! Good job, let’s look at some other keys I have!”)
  4. If they respond with the error sound (e.g., “tea”), act like you don’t understand them (e.g., “Tea? Tea will help me unlock the door?”). This gives your child the opportunity to correct the production on their own without a model. If they continue to have difficulties, help by modeling the word or practicing other facilitative tasks your SLP has taught you. 

Minimal pair therapy can be so powerful to help your child understand the pattern of sound usage and accelerate their abilities to produce sounds in words correctly. The described process is a basic model of how minimal pair therapy can be done. Your SLP will let you know where your child is at with the process and specific strategies and order of practice that is most beneficial to your child. 

Let Us Help

Enrichment Therapy & Learning Center has locations in the Iowa City, IA area and Des Moines, IA area. We provide individual speech-language therapy and tutoring as well as offering small group academic programs.  At Enrichment Therapy & Learning Center our passion is to help kids achieve effective communication skills and gain academic success. Contact us for more information on how we can help your child succeed.


740 Community Drive, Unit A

North Liberty, IA 52317



5530 West Pkwy, Suite 300

Johnston, IA 50131


* Pictures of minimal pair cards are property of Adventures in Speech Pathology. 

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